Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium had a bit of a coming out
party Saturday night. A record capacity
crowd greeted Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish and kept the stadium rocking until
almost midnight. A national TV audience was
able to witness Georgia grind out a victory.
It was a great night to be a Bulldog.
I had the opportunity to try and explain college football
over the weekend to someone who isn’t from this country. It was difficult to know where to begin,
because it is an amateur sport that rakes in hundreds of millions of
dollars. It is steeped in history but is
ever changing. A bowl system that used
to provide a few lucky players their first experience at travel has largely
ceded its stature to over-saturation and relevance to a playoff system.
Georgia’s patron saint Lewis Grizzard once wrote a column
explaining the intense rivalry of college football as “our way of life against
theirs”. Whether one had ever stepped
foot on campus didn’t matter. Our chosen
university’s football team represented us – all that we believed in and all
that we stood for. We didn’t want to
lose to them, regardless who “they” were.
Some of “them”, however, needed to be beaten more than
others. Fights among other SEC teams
were heated rivalries. Being raised by a
former Bulldog player, I was still taught that you pulled for SEC teams against
others. They were, after all, family,
and southerners don’t take kindly to outsiders who cause trouble for the
There were a few programs that had national stature, with
Notre Dame chief among them. The had a
national footprint that provided a recruiting base that transcended regional
boundaries and a fan base that guaranteed ratings for any game they
Times have changed. The proliferation of televised games has removed much of the aura from the select few elite. The money from those television rights have allowed an arms race within college sports with many more schools now able to compete with the best. A recent ESPN article chronicled UGA’s “$200 Million quest to take down Alabama”.
Recruiting for all the major programs has been spread over a
national footprint. Who each school views as their competition has largely
There’s a clear parallel here between UGA’s football program
and the state as a whole. In the half
century since Vince Dooley began walking the sidelines of the field that now
carries his name, Georgia has gone from a state that measured favorably against
its southern neighbors to a national and international destination.
Our airport and ports are world class. Georgia basically invented the FinTech industry
for payment processing, with the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange
based here. 30 of the country’s Fortune 500
make their headquarters in the state, along with many North American
Headquarters of international conglomerates.
The census taken before Vince Dooley’s arrival had Georgia
as the 16th largest state in the country, just 15,000 people behind
Wisconsin and almost 400,000 ahead of Tennessee and about 600,000 ahead of
Alabama. Next year’s census will show
Georgia as the 8th largest state in the country, and growth trends
should have Georgia as the 5th largest about the time kids born
today graduate college.
People and companies are voting with their feet, and they’re
voting for the state of Georgia.
While our football team continues to target Alabama to
declare supremacy, the state is no longer content with competing against Alabama,
South Carolina, or Tennessee when it comes to economic development. It’s more frequent that our economic battles
are with Texas, California, or other countries depending on the industry.
Like with football, this requires a different mindset. Georgia has to aim higher than “not bad for a
southern state”. It’s now Georgia
against the world.
For Georgia to win our battles at this level, it’s going to
require us to understand who we’re really playing against. Once we understand the competition, we need
to make sure we’re investing in the right places to win.